ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It might as well have been Senior Night at the National Hockey Center.
Fourth ranked St. Cloud State got goals from seniors Gary Houseman, Justin Fletcher, and Dan Kronick, while senior goaltender Bobby Goepfert collected 25 saves as the Huskies upended No. 13 Colorado College, 3-1, before 6,102 at the National Hockey Center on Friday night.
“I thought we were a little rusty tonight,” said SCSU head coach Bob Motzko.
“That’s normal coming off the bye. But you fight through it. We saw a little spurt at the end of the second period, and then we played a bit cautious in the third.”
“The game looked good,” said CC captain Lee Sweatt, who scored the Tigers’ lone marker. “It wasn’t a playoff-type game, though, it was more shinny style back and forth, a lot of turnovers by both teams.”
Houseman got things started for St. Cloud State (18-5-4, 12-5-4 WCHA) about five-and-a-half minutes in. Intercepting a pass in the Colorado College zone, Houseman took the puck straight to the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and fired off a shot that beat Colorado College senior Matt Zaba top shelf of the left side.
“[Sophomore Michael Olson] forced a play down low and the d-man just coughed it up to me,” said Houseman. “I had a shot about two seconds earlier up top and [Zaba] just got to it, so when I came back I decided I was going to do it again and it went in the second time.”
It was Houseman’s third goal of the year.
Colorado College (16-11-2, 12-8-1) evened things up midway through the second period. Freshman Bill Sweatt took a shot on goal during the power play to the left of the net. Goepfert made the save, but the puck bounced away into the slot, finding freshman center Andreas Vlassopoulos.
Faced with a momentary open net, Vlassopoulos wisely backhanded the puck into the top of the slot to senior defenseman Lee Sweatt. As Goepfert moved across to close off the obvious shot on the open net, Sweatt pushed the puck through a screen and past Goepfert on the right side.
Four minutes later, senior Nate Raduns took a hooking penalty in the neutral zone, giving CC a golden chance to take the lead, pushing the man advantage while the Huskies’ top penalty killer cooled his heels. Controlling the zone for much of the power play, Goepfert and the St. Cloud penalty kill stayed calm and maintained the deadlock.
A wild play with just over three minutes to play in the second put SCSU back on top. A turnover in the neutral zone created a three-on-one opportunity. Raduns, just out of the box, took the puck into the zone and made a soft pass to freshman Ryan Lasch.
Lasch took the puck in toward the net but was taken out on the play by the defense, and all three men bowled into Zaba, creating a melee in front. Defenseman Justin Fletcher saw the puck resting just in front of the scrum at the bottom of the slot, raced in and simply lifted the it into the net.
“We outnumbered them to the front of the net,” said Fletcher. “You can make good things happen with that.”
Just 15 seconds later, Vlassopoulos would take a hooking penalty away from the play to give St. Cloud the man advantage, and they wasted little time in taking charge. After banking the puck off of the side of the net shortly prior, Dan Kronick redirected a blast from the blueline supplied by defenseman Matt Stephenson into the net for SCSU’s second goal in a span of 1:22.
The Huskies kept the pressure on for the remaining two minutes of the period and nearly netted another one, but Zaba and his defense made important stops to keep the game from getting out of hand.
“College hockey is a game of momentum,” said Lee Sweatt. “Once they scored that first goal, the whole building erupted and they got that momentum. I wouldn’t say we were a step behind at that point, but they got jazzed up when the crowd got going. That’s going to happen when you’re on the road. You can’t make turnovers like that and you have to limit your penalties.”
The third period began with a fair amount of back and forth play, but late in the period the Tigers began gaining the upper hand and took their shots, although they had few quality chances to speak of.
With about six minutes to play, a hooking penalty to SCSU junior Aaron Brocklehurst gave Colorado College their first power play opportunity in nearly twenty minutes an important opportunity to claw themselves back into things.
Unfortunately, the St. Cloud State penalty kill was up to the task, limiting the Tigers to only five shot attempts on the chance, three of which were stopped by the defense in front, while Goepfert stopped the other two.
“Discipline has to be our key,” said Motzko. “The penalty [to Brocklehurst] gave them an opportunity to get back into the game. Our penalty killers and Bobby came up big there.”
After killing the penalty, the Huskies hung on to claim the victory.
“Both teams could have played a little bit better,” said Lee Sweatt. “We definitely had the momentum coming off of the power play goal, and we got a couple of other power play chances after that, but we didn’t have that extra grit we needed to get the goal and get on top. Then they get a goal off a turnover and a sort-of fluky power play goal. It was a game of opportunities and they beat us on the opportunities when they had them.”
With the win, St. Cloud State is now alone in second place in the WCHA, five points behind idle Minnesota. Colorado College remains in fourth, still just one point behind rival Denver.
Both teams are back in action Saturday night at the National Hockey Center.